A Comedian Connecting to Every Audience
Issue   |   Thu, 05/19/2016 - 19:51
Khalil Flemming '16
Flemming will continue his interest in film and entertainment at United Talent Agency, working in their agent training program.

Khalil Flemming’s theater and dance thesis was an original comedy called “Equal Weight.”

The inspiration for the title came from a weekly tradition in Mr. Gad’s House of Improv, in which members tell stories for their week. During one session, Will Savino ’14 noted that when Flemming told stories, he gave “equal weight” to each part.

“I could have a conversation with someone at a bus stop that resonates with me just as much as listening to a speaker at a conference,” Flemming said. “It kind of represents the way I am in life in general. Either just appreciating or acknowledging the wealth of things that are happening to me at a given point.”

From my conversation with Flemming, it’s clear that this is true. He’s the sort of person that pays attention to an interaction that most people would see as being insignificant, which has rendered him a meaningful part of the Amherst community. He’s led an Amherst career of equal weight.

Stealthy Detective
Flemming grew up in Lynn, Massachusetts, a residential town 30 minutes from Boston. He began acting in school and church at a young age, and impressed audiences encouraged him to pursue more opportunities. And so his father did some research and 9-year-old Flemming transformed into Piglet from “Winnie the Pooh” for his first play at the Boston Children’s theater.

In high school, Flemming continued acting and picked up a few other weights to add to the balance. Outside of the acting he did at school, Flemming acted in various television and film productions. He also had some interesting experiences voice acting for computer games, including an educational game geared toward improving children’s cognitive skills.

“I was a neighborhood detective kid that would go around and say stuff like ‘there’s a mystery over at the sewer pipe. We have to find out what objects were there so we can blah blah blah. We have to find the yellow shovel. Find the yellow shovel. Find the yellow shovel. Find the yellow shovel,” he said.

The stealthy detective was also a member of his high school’s track and field team, and the future Gad’s star turned down a chance to join his school’s improv group so that he could instead accept a spot on the hip-hop dance group.

“I mean yes, I was a dope dancer,” Flemming joked.

Making the Most of Amherst
When Flemming arrived at Amherst, he quickly took advantage of what the college has to offer, continuing with acting and track and field, while seeking out new interests.

“I dove way too deep my freshman fall,” he admitted. “Gad’s, first year of track, I acted in a senior’s thesis — every day of the week I had multiple things to do. I’ve sifted through the options and found my way through the years.”

Flemming met people in each corner of the campus as he did this.

“There was a new level of intelligent people here to interact with, so I found myself more challenged by the people than the environment. Things that I thought I was talented or competent in, people showed me there’s a new level of,” he said.

As the years went on, this remained true. Each passing ‘hello’ or long dinner conversation held weight for Flemming. As I experienced while acting in a play he directed, the value Flemming places on each moment extends to each aspect of his Amherst career.

“I’ve timed it, and it takes me about two minutes to walk from the back room of Val to the exit,” Flemming’s friend Jesse Pagliuca ’16 said. “With Khalil, it usually takes 10, regardless of how much time he has. Khalil is late to everything, mostly because he loves people. As Khalil meanders around, he cannot help but interact with every person along his path. He is the antithesis of Amherst awkward; even if you only met for a moment, he’ll remember your name and make a playful joke the next time he sees you. Khalil can’t help it. He places equal weight on every conversation and person. Even the little interactions are important to him.”

Theater Major
Continuing his interest in the entertainment industry, Flemming chose to be a theater and dance major. Despite his interest in film, Flemming chose theater and dance because “it is a bit more flexible in terms of the creative options you have.” Flemming gained the hands-on, creative practice experience he was seeking in Rosh Bashford’s course directing studio. Bashford, now Flemming’s adviser, noted how Flemming’s attention to human interaction helped him become a “creative force, a facilitator of other people’s work.”

“I feel super fortunate to have worked with Khalil,” Bashford said. “He naturally created a great atmosphere in the rehearsal room — a top priority for any director. Khalil also has an innate ability to convey his artistic vision by simply sharing his infectious and generous personality. He has a genuine quality — in life and in his work — that is captivating.”

Flemming’s thesis started off as a shorter play titled “Nirvana,” written for the course playwriting. The play followed a character that was a satirical version of Flemming as he navigated high jinks with friends, girls and professors. The following semester Flemming took directing studio in which he was tasked with directing a full production. For the assignment, he wrote a longer version of “Nirvana” in which he added a film component in which the main character’s conscious was depicted behind him on a screen.

“The audience could see the conscious and it gave the effect that his conscious was looking over him and living his life with him,” Flemming said.

Flemming fostered a community among the cast in order to produce a visually interesting play that encapsulated the nature of human relations. The decision to transform the play into a thesis was in large part inspired by the audiences’ reaction to this rendering of consciousness.

He wrote a loose version of the script over the summer, and allowed the actors to build upon it via improv in the spring. Characters were morphed and added to produce a play that told the story of a character Zeke and his consciousness as he interacted with the people in his life, including his advisor, his close friend, his friend that was growing distant and a love interest. “Equal Weight” was cast in early fall, rehearsed and presented in November.

Mr. Gad's & Track and Field
Flemming joined Mr. Gad’s the fall of his first year and said it has been “dope dope dope” ever since. It’s no surprise that what he values most about the group is the ability to communicate with new people.

“It’s been cool to have a group of friends like that and also being able to perform for people all the time and having people that you see around campus show up,” Flemming said. “A big part of being in Gad’s for me has been finding out who comes to Gad’s and why they do and what they like and getting to know them as friends.”

For the track and field team, Flemming came on as a long jumper and short sprinter. His second year, he started triple jumping and came close to breaking the school record. Unfortunately, the season ended in a hamstring injury. This year, Flemming is finally back on track with his jumping and has been excited to contribute to the team — as both an athlete and a friend.

“Especially this year, there’s a strong community,” he said. He attributed this in large part to the assistant coach’s ability to bring in more teammates.

Future Plans
Flemming has always been interested in film, particularly independent film. He has worked on several sets in a variety of different roles.

“There is a certain raw energy, because everyone is working very earnestly, making things happen as quickly and efficiently as possible,” Flemming said of independent film productions. “I think it taught me a lot because I had to take on a lot of responsibility in new positions really fast.”

Next year, Flemming will be working toward his goal of becoming a “creative, influential and involved member of the universal entertainment community.” He’ll be working at United Talent Agency headquarters in New York, training in the agent talent program.

“I’ll meet a lot of people and spend a lot of time learning what its like to be in the agent world,” Flemming said. Flemming noted that it was an interaction with an Amherst friend that contributed to him getting the job.

Flemming’s time at Amherst has been an array of moments, interactions and people that have fit together to make him who he has grown to be. Whatever he’s doing in the future, we all know he’ll be somewhere great paying attention to the little things — giving every interaction equal weight.